Christmas Caroling Gets Competitive

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The choir at Coral Reef High School competes at the annual caroling competition in Coral Gables, Fla. (Phil Latzman/Only A Game)
The choir at Coral Reef High School competes at the annual caroling competition in Coral Gables, Fla. (Phil Latzman/Only A Game)

For those whose holiday entertainment includes sports, College Bowl Games, basketball and ice hockey are the traditional fare. But for more almost three decades, folks in Florida have come out to see a sport of the singing variety. In December of 2013, reporter Phil Latzman and his sleigh team set out for Coral Gables, to take in a caroling competition that has become one of Florida’s spirited annual traditions.

This story originally aired on Dec. 21, 2013.

'Tis the Season for bowl games, basketball and ice hockey among other winter sporting events to keep us entertained during the holiday.

But it’s also the time of year when the best teams of voices are heard.

In Coral Gables, Fla., a caroling competition has become a yearly tradition.

The Hialeah High School Thoroughbreds are a show choir that has won their division of the caroling competition the past 14 years, and they have the swagger of a champion.

A football game, you’ll see it, but you might not remember it as much as a chorus show. The jingles will stay in there. You know they will.

Andy Villarreal, caroler

“I mean, we definitely see it as competition,” Jessica Peralta says.

“Let’s see, a football game, you’ll see it, but you might not remember it as much as a chorus show,” Andy Villarreal adds. “The jingles will stay in there. You know they will.

Peralta and Villarreal are key players in the choir led by head coach, choral director and English teacher Ismael Gonzalez, who has participated in this event all 27 years of its existence. Gonzalez says singing and athletics do have similar routines.

“You have to concentrate,” Gonzalez says. “You have to rehearse. You have to practice. The same way you have to be disciplined, you have to rest, you have to eat well. You do have to take care of yourself when you compete. And also sing and have fun.”

When Gonzalez’s Thoroughbreds take the stage, the girls are in red Santa gowns. The boys are wearing Santa caps to go with red bow ties and suspenders. They’re dancing on the steps of an office building in the backdrop of a giant, 32-foot poinsettia, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The hulking red tree was a gift to the city of Coral Gables in 1987 that inspired the competition.

Hialeah High’s performance is watched closely by a team of judges, including retired music teacher Judie Berger.

“First of all, it’s a visual,” she says. “Do they look good? Do they follow their thing? Then, you listen for perfection. You listen for the fact that they have good intonation, that they pronounce their words well, that they make their words mean something and they’re not just drones. You want it to sound like holiday music, and not just, ‘OK, I learned this song, and let me sing it.’”

And Hialeah has some stiff competition.

Everglades Senior High has over 100 members in its choir “rolling merrily along.”

Fellow judge Rafael DeGuzman says, just like on any field or court, teamwork matters.

“They have to be listening to each other,” he explains. “And the movement has to be precise, and in unison. This is a friendly competition, but there is accountability, just like in sports.”

Last up, the biggest and perhaps most formidable squad of carolers from Coral Park Senior High with their own twist on “Jingle Bells.”

In the end, 28 schools shared over $11,000 cash prizes with Hialeah again taking home first prize in the Show Choir division, and Everglades and Coral Reef sharing top honors in the Full Choir division.

But there were good tidings for all, and according to Hialeah High’s Jaylene Fernandez, no losers.

“We can all have fun, and we all enjoy it so much that I don’t see it as a competition,” she says. “I see it more as bonding.”

While sports and choir may have some things in common, these choir members say there is one noticeable difference.

“Is there any trash talking involved here?” I ask. “Trash singing, maybe?”

“No, there’s never,” Peralta says.

“That I know of, not really,” Fernandez adds.

“Actually, usually when other choirs see us, they say, ‘Oh my God, you guys did so good,’ and we share good comments and good feedback,” Peralta says. “Never anything bad.”

“Where’s the fun if you trash talk other people?” asks Villarreal.

Perhaps pro athletes can take a cue from amateur carolers.

This segment aired on December 27, 2014.


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